Machine de Marly

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The 1859 machine de Marly painted circa 1873 by Alfred Sisley

The machine de Marly, also widely known as the Marly machine and the machine of Marly, was a French engineering marvel completed in 1684. King Louis XIV needed a large water supply for his fountains at Versailles. The amount of water needed per day for these fountains was not much less than the amount of water used per day in the city of Paris.

The machine de Marly, based on a prototype at Modave Castle, consisted of fourteen gigantic water wheels, each roughly 11.5 meters or 38 feet in diameter,[1] that moved 221 pumps to bring water 177 yards (162 m) up a hillside from the Seine River to the Louveciennes Aqueduct. King Louis XIV had countless schemes and inventions that were supposed to bring water to his fountains. The machine de Marly was by far his most extensive and costly plan. After three years of construction and a cost of approximately 5,500,000 livres, the massive contraption, considered the most complex of the 17th century, was completed. "The chief engineer for the project was Arnold de Ville and the 'contractor' was Rennequin Sualem (after whom the quai by the machine is now named).",[1] both having experience in pumping water from coal mines in the region of Liège (in modern Belgium).[2]

The machine suffered from frequent breakdowns, required a permanent staff of sixty to maintain, and often required costly repairs, but worked 133 years. Destroyed in 1817, it was replaced by a "machine temporaire" during 10 years and then a steam engine entered in service from 1827 to 1859. From 1859 to 1963, the pumping at Marly was assumed by another hydraulic machine conceived by engineer Dufrayer (The Dufrayer's machine was scrapped in 1968 and replaced by electromechanical pumps).

An engraving of the Paris Observatory in the beginning of the eighteenth century with the wooden "Marly tower" on the right, a dismantled part of the machine de Marly, moved to the Paris Observatory by astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini for mounting long telescopes.

Since the machine de Marly constantly failed to operate properly, work began on an aqueduct to carry water to two reservoirs near Versailles not long after the machine's completion.

The Machine de Marly was located at Bougival, in the Yvelines department, where some remains of the Dufrayer's machine are still visible today, but nothing subsist of the original 17th century masterpiece built by the Sualem brothers.

Coordinates: 48°52′16″N 2°7′29″E / 48.87111°N 2.12472°E / 48.87111; 2.12472


  1. ^ a b La machine de Marly
  2. ^ Bruno Demoulin and Jean-Louis Kupper, Histoire de la Wallonie, Privat, Toulouse, 2004, p. 199 ISBN 2-7089-4779-6